For many scientists, “concerned” feels like the understatement of the year.
More than 2,300 scientists around the US have co-signed a letter written by the Union of Concerned Scientists to the incoming administration, including 22 Nobel Prize winners and former presidential advisors. It lays out the scientific community’s expectations for the next four years and beyond. They sent their missive to the Trump transition team.
The letter asserts key principles to how public policy and science should interact, including that federal agencies “be led by officials with demonstrated track records of respecting science as a critical component of decision making,” and that the administration ensures “our nation’s bedrock public health and environmental laws—such as the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act—retain a strong scientific foundation.”
Scientists should be able to carry out their work and present findings without fear of misrepresentation, censorship, or abuse. They express in no uncertain terms and sans-niceties that the scientific community is watching, ready to hold accountable those who might undermine their research for political gain.
“We seem to be doing transition by Twitter in some cases.”
Will Trump and his team take a break — from compromising the survival of the EPA, imperiling the US role in the UN climate change agreement, threatening the existence of NASA’s Earth Science division, from deeming the National Institute of Health “terrible,” or hell, humanity’s continued survival on this climate-changing Earth in general — to read over this letter from a bunch of anxious scientists? Maybe not. But that’s not really the point, Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS told Motherboard. It’s meant to be less a letter of persuasion, more a moment of clarity.
“We certainly want the incoming administration and Congress to pay attention,” says Rosenberg. “But it’s for the science community and the public… The potential to undermine science based public policy is large, so we want to provide an outlet for that energy and communicate that to a broader public, and to the administration and Congress.”
Rosenberg remembers a similar fight for integrity during the Bush era, with concerns about manipulation of scientific evidence and advisory panels stacked with special interest groups. But 2016 is not normal.
He says this transition is unlike any other he’s seen: “In previous transitions you would have a much more coherent view of the kinds of policies that would be pursued and how agencies would be staffed up and handled… We seem to be doing transition by Twitter in some cases. So that’s making people very nervous.” This go-around is stacked with an unprecedented number of career science-deniers and aggressors, including Trump’s energy advisor and wealthiest energy billionaire in the US, Harold Hamm, a man known worldwide as a “climate criminal” Myron Ebell, and of course chief strategist Steven Bannon, who ran a mock Earth into the ground.
In a year when scientists—who are often content letting the data speak for itself—are forced to stand up as activists as seen in a push to ban Arctic drilling and transparency in environmental risks, the UCS letter acts as another call for clarity and solidarity. “The letter isn’t an end point,” Rosenberg says. “It’s a start point. There really is a lot of energy in the science community saying we need to watch what’s happening, we need to be engaged in the public policy process. I think that’s a good thing.”
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